Acoustic crypsis in communication by North Atlantic right whale mother–calf pairs on the calving grounds

Susan E. Parks, Dana A. Cusano, Sofie M. Van Parijs, Douglas P. Nowacek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Mammals with dependent young often rely on cryptic behaviour to avoid detection by potential predators. In the mysticetes, large baleen whales, young calves are known to be vulnerable to direct predation from both shark and orca predators; therefore, it is possible that mother–calf pairs may show cryptic behaviours to avoid the attention of predators. Baleen whales primarily communicate through low-frequency acoustic signals, which can travel over long ranges. In this study, we explore the potential for acoustic crypsis, a form of cryptic behaviour to avoid predator detection, in North Atlantic right whale mother–calf pairs. We predicted that mother–calf pairs would either show reduced calling rates, reduced call amplitude or a combination of these behavioural modifications when compared with other demographic groups in the same habitat. Our results show that right whale mother–calf pairs have a strong shift in repertoire usage, significantly reducing the number of higher amplitude, long-distance communication signals they produced when compared with juvenile and pregnant whales in the same habitat. These observations show that right whale mother–calf pairs rely upon acoustic crypsis, potentially to minimize the risk of acoustic eavesdropping by predators.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20190485
JournalBiology letters
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019


  • Acoustic crypsis
  • Baleen whale
  • Eavesdropping
  • Predator avoidance
  • Right whale

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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